Instagram in The Garden of Dreams

Fear, Food, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, salvation, Strength, vision, Work

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I am never too busy to heed the prompting of that inner voice that calls me to stop and smell the roses. In my case, the voice says, “Stop and Instagram this moment!” I’ll be driving down the road, just going from point A to point B, singing my favorite Bon Jovi tune, when I feel that pull on the steering wheel from my Higher Power. Sometimes I have seen the extraordinary play of light shimmering through the trees beside a rural road and other times one magnificent tree stands out from the crowd of its kin. Sometimes I snap several photos around an area before I “see the real image” that was calling out to me.

This prompting of the Spirit ought not to be denied, for we will miss our most inspired works if we are just fixed on getting to our planned destination. In art, as in the spiritual life, the journey is as important as the destination. We can miss some important opportunities for growth if we think that our journey needs to be easy, direct, quick and according to plan.

In my studio as in my life, I like to be on a schedule and have a plan/goals. The unknown is frightening, full of dragons, and has many places where I could “lose it all” by falling off an unseen cliff face or down into a sudden crevasse. Yet, meeting these challenges is what strengthens us. A child making a mess of his drawing has merely taken the media too far. We adults want to stop him before he makes a mess of it, but he has to learn the limits of the medium before he can truly take his creativity out to the maximum, but no farther. If we are pushing ourselves creatively, we will “lose it early and often.” (Ask Tiger Woods or any pro golfer who has changed his/her swing: the transformation is daunting, so only the passionate will give it a try.)

I’ve been eating healthier and exercising more, so my blood pressure medicines were working too well. My blood pressures were in the zombie zone, so I wasn’t perky enough to do much work in the studio. Once my doctor adjusted my medications, I discovered my housekeeping skills also hadn’t been tested for some time there. Many of the photographs that I’ve taken as inspiration were stuck together from a water spill. I microwaved them (with a bowl of water), peeled them apart, cut up the interesting fragments, and glued them together as a collage: “Garden of Dreams.”

I decided to use the collage as the sketch for a new painting, an idea which freed me from grieving the loss of the good things or the original plan I had in mind for these photos. I could concentrate instead on the better hope for the future that this new opportunity presented. My best laid plans may have come to naught, but “we know that all things work together for good for those that love God, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).

The Shining River

Creativity, Icons, Imagination, Italy, Ministry, mystery, photography, Prayer, Spirituality, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  ~~ Revelation 22:1-2

I have never visited a more beautiful city than Venice, Italy, with her

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

ancient mansions on the canals, her grand piazza opening up to the lovely Basilica of San Marco’s domes, and her delightful bridges, museums, and churches. Most tourists who visit here love to feed the pigeons, while I think they are a public nuisance. Then these birds take flight heavenward and I’m inclined to think of angels’ wings and brushes of glory.

With all these earthly visual delights, my eye still is drawn heavenward to the sky, for the clouds and the atmospheric haze of Venice give this city a unique ambience. If a painter were to lay the colors of the South Italian sky upon the watery bogscape of Venice, the discord would be marked immediately.  At dawn and twilight especially, travelers don’t need a GPS to recognize the location or even a town sign to mark their arrival, for the sky alone says, “Welcome to Venice, weary traveler! Rest your soul!”

Most of us are used to living on a city lot with trees and grass that is bounded by a concrete walkway, a grass “neutral ground,” and a street that separates us from a mirror image of our own property across that same road. Venetians live on canals in multistory buildings that double as homes and warehouses. The lower floors were for work, for the cargo hauling gondolas easily accessed these, while the upper floors were for the family retreat, since they were more private. Everything in Venice moves by some form of floating contraption, since the city was built on marshy land in the middle of a lagoon between several small islands.

Because there aren’t any motorcars, there is a different feeling to the city. On the larger canals, the big boats ferry people on the tourist routes and smaller motorboats act as taxis. The classic gondola with the human powered oarsman is a premium priced experience, much like a carriage ride in downtown Hot Springs or Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Travelling to the nooks and crannies of this jeweled city is by foot over one of the many bridges and side paths, so it is a sightseer’s paradise.

This slower travel allows a visitor to feel the rhythm of the place, to smell the air, to note the patina on the marble facings of the homes, the worn indentations on the entry steps of the ancient homes, and the variety of colors in the handmade bricks. Walking down the narrow corridor between the homes doesn’t prepare the visitor for the sudden opening into a larger space and the overwhelming, all enveloping softness of lush rose, moist yellow, and puffy crème that make up the clouds of a Venetian sky. Perhaps someone else sees only a cerulean blue sky and a titanium white cloud, but I know what I see. I visited this beautiful city only once, some forty years ago, and I still remember images from those blessed days.

As I think about this crystal clear memory from my past, I wonder how we see our own world today and how we envision the world that is to come. Many of us have a very negative view of this world: the problems, the people, and the pains are all overwhelming. We have divided our world into an “us vs. them” place: rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat, Developed world or Emerging world, Christian or Muslim, and the list of dualisms goes on and on.  Even in the Bible, folks were divided, until Paul set them straight, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

We aren’t meant to separate ourselves from one another but to find a way to come closer to each other. “If only we were all Christians,” you say, “and everyone belonged to MY church/denomination.” I think that what Paul also means by “one in Christ Jesus” is that all human beings share the image of God, no matter what church they belong to, and no matter what God they call upon. No matter how different they look from you and me, they still hold the divine image and imprint within them. If we are to truly live out our call to be “the living image of God in the world,” just as Jesus Christ was the living image of God in the flesh as the Incarnated Son of God, then we have to take that incarnation in our lives and the recreation of this world seriously.

In the Celtic Tradition, heaven and earth are only three feet apart. The “thin places” where we feel the presence of God are even closer. What if God intended all creation to be a “thin place?” The Garden of Eden seemed to be such a spot, for Adam and Eve not only lived and cared for the land here, but they had daily walks with the LORD in the cool of the evening breezes (Genesis 2-3). Unfortunately, our spiritual forbears decided that equality with God was more desirable than companionship with God, so they lost their daily privilege of the presence (Gen 3:22-24). This is called “The Fall.”

Ever since this Fall, all of human kind has attempted to recover the intimate relationship with God and nature that we once had in the Garden. Today some focus only on their spiritual lives and separate their souls from their flesh. Both Christian and New Age groups will do this: we deny our body sleep, good nutrition, or healthy exercise. We also see it when a proponent of some “spiritual doctrine” proclaims that the body is unimportant, so that it can be treated either well or ill, or can be used by the cult leader for “higher purposes.”  Or we claim that since our bodies don’t matter, we can use them for any purpose we want, for only our soul matters.

Since God created us with both a body and a soul (Gen 2:7), both must be valued by God. Moreover if God sent his Son into the womb of a teenage Virgin, so that he might be born fully human (both body and soul) and fully divine (still the Son, still part of the Holy Trinity), then God distinctly values the human body, both female and male. God sent his Son in human form to the earth, not just to redeem humanity, but to set all creation free (Rom 8:21).

When we spend time in a thin place, most often we are isolated and silent. Most of us need that time away from the hustle and bustle of life to settle our minds so we can hear or feel the presence of God. We need a “Garden of Eden” that is our place to meet God daily until we are able to meet him in the midst of the fallen world in which we live. How can we learn to feel the presence of God while we are within the “maddening crowd?”

I practice times of “tuning out” or letting my mind drift. Some call this daydreaming or a failure to stay on task. Creative people are task slaves until their idea has fully formed well enough to get them excited about working and then you can’t tear them away from their fever until they drop from exhaustion or realize they are about to overwork their piece.  We know our own work habits, and it usually isn’t on anyone else’s time clock. The creative idea is their master, not the schedule, the calendar, or some outside influence.

I will be in the car at a red light and hear a voice in my inner mind prompting me to look up and photograph the sky. I do this for no particular reason, other than I feel impelled.  It’s not an actual voice of a person; it’s more of an intuitive feeling that now is the time to take this photo. Perhaps I’m just bored, or I have better peripheral vision, or I need something to occupy my time so I don’t go silly waiting at the back of this long line. I think of these moments as “intersections of heaven and earth,” for these are windows in which our everyday world opens up into a world in which God is present and touches our world and our space and our time.

The painting which graces the headline is from a photo of the street outside of my condominium, beyond the small creek, looking over into the wooded lot beyond. The old asphalt road has become the River of Life, bright as crystal. There are many trees there and the golden sky tells us that we are in the presence of the glory of God. I go in and out of this gate every day, into a world in which God is ever creating and recreating. I have a much better attitude toward all the ugliness I see out there when I know it is passing away before my very eyes.

 

The Journey Never Ends

Creativity, Family, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, Work

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

“A highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.”~~ Isaiah 35:8

All good things come to an end, but the ending is just the beginning of something new. This week a fifty year old jockey came out of retirement and rode Oxbow, a 15/1 long shot, into the winner’s circle at the Preakness: they beat the favorite and his mud covered jockey who finished fourth, out of the money. I have a dear friend who just turned 66 and is contemplating retirement after forty years in medicine: he wonders what he could have done if he had more time in his career or if he had more time in retirement. Thousands of graduates from all educational levels are celebrating with their families this end of their journey with a mixture of joy and sadness. Whether they are “kiddie kollege” grads or college graduates, there is a mixture of sadness in knowing that this shared journey with friends is over, and in a few days the classrooms will be empty as others come to take your place.

This is the way of all journeys, whether we are going for a weekend at the lake or for two weeks in the Footsteps of Paul on a pilgrimage. When I came home after being in two countries, seven hotels, multiple airports, a taxi ride by myself in Istanbul, and finally slept in my own bed within my own four walls, I woke up feeling sad that there wasn’t some new and compelling place to be that day. Already I wanted to see more of Greece, for I only tasted of her beauty and delights. I didn’t get to see the ancient sites of mythology or the northernmost cities that Paul visited.  When I said goodbye to some of my travel companions that I enjoyed touring with, I knew that they were just seasonal friends, but one friend I have kept in touch with through Facebook. Sometimes this is the way life is, for we can’t manufacture friendships over a short period of time.

My first Sunday at home I was still on Istanbul time, so I woke at 2 AM (10 AM Istanbul time). This was “sleeping late” by their clock, but my eyes were wide open. Coffee in the kitchen, writing in my journal, a very early breakfast, meeting my newspaper man, and getting to church early for a change were on tap for today.

I did notice that I had a difficult time clapping in rhythm with the band, however, as if I were straddling different time zones or time travelling between the two places I had been and the place where I was now. My driving was also a tad impaired, for while I was able to navigate the highway, the glowing scenery distracted me. The landscape had an effervescent glow that I remember only one other time in my life, a radiance that it gave off as if God was touching all his creation and sanctifying it.  I remember the land, the trees, the grass, and all living things giving off this glow for weeks after I visited the Holy Land. This didn’t transfer to the streets or to bridges or houses, but only to growing things.  It is a holy moment, when one realizes that the journey that was once thought to be over is now just beginning.

When we get our diplomas, our gold watches, or our plaques for our faithful years of service, we think we have finished our course. When we cross the finish line or win first place, we think we have succeeded and can rest on our laurels.  The journey isn’t over yet! We are not called to be a settled people. We are a nation that was called to move west, to improve the widget, to build a new land, and to send humanity to the moon.  Now we have greater problems: within two generations, our great seacoast cities around the world may be inundated if the global warming folks are correct, over 7 ½ million people die of hunger every year around the world (http://www.statisticbrain.com/world-hunger-statistics/), and as our world becomes more urbanized, more will lack access to fresh water (w.globalresearch.ca/un-800-million-people-without-drinking-water/23843).

The ideas we are taught today won’t solve the problems of tomorrow, and we can’t wait until tomorrow to begin solving them! We have to become travelers and not settlers. Our education is just the passport to the next leg of our journey, and our first retirement annuity payment is merely the visa to the next country of destination on this great lifetime adventure we are about.

So how can we bring the Traveler’s experience to our daily lives? Travelers believe they are going someplace, that they have a destination in mind. If we don’t physically leave home, where are we going? I think it is the sense of a life well lived, or a life full of reasons to get up in the morning. We United Methodists have a saying from our founder, John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” If this were your goal in life, each and every day can be an exciting day! We don’t know whom God will place into our path, but if we pass some helpless one by so that we can take care of our own important business, we will miss the opportunity to be a Neighbor like the Good Samaritan and detour from our daily routine to help someone in need (Luke 10”28-38).

Travelers expect the journey to be exciting and renewing. Daily life in the same old routine can get so predictable and humdrum. Our alarm goes off at the same hour and minute, we take the same rut to work, see the same old crowd at work, fight the same traffic snarl on the way home, and maybe even our home fires are barely flickering.  We miss the old excitement and passion we once had in life! Where has our energy gone—sucked down a black hole into oblivion, washed down by one too many drinks or spoonfuls of ice ream?

How can we keep faith and fidelity while reigniting that spark of excitement we used to feel when we were first sharing our passion for one another?  Sometimes we are just trading information with one another, rather than really sharing our lives and our hearts with the one we really care about.  Taking a new course in an experiential class, learning a new skill or sport together, or reading a book together and sharing our lives/thoughts/hopes/dreams/mistakes/achievements/joys means that we are suddenly vulnerable to one another again, for we are both travelers in an “unknown country.” Now we have to depend on each other just as travellers do; we strengthen our bonds.

As travelers, we expect to return home changed by our experiences. Once you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve always been to Turkey. Even if you break your camera or lose the filmcard, you have your memories and your postcards and souvenirs. The experiences have transformed you. If they didn’t, then all you did was pay a lot of money to wander around a wonderful place to complain about how “it wasn’t like home.” Of course not! It’s Turkey!

We do this in our daily life when we fail to engage the promise and potential of the gift God offers to us with each new day.  We say that each sunrise brings a new gift, “the present.” It may be a silly pun, but it’s also a truism. Some of us spend our daily gifts grieving about our yesterdays or yearning for them to come again. Yesterday is water under the bridge: we can’t bring it back and neither can we hold it here with us now.

Others of us miss the gift of the present because we are dreaming about our futures: things will be different when the kids leave the house, I will find someone to love me when I lose 40 pounds, or when the highway comes through this city will thrive again.  The future we dream about may not come to fruition. Moreover we set ourselves up for unhappiness and failure to act in the present while we wait for this future chimera to appear.

The best way to live as a traveler in our daily lives is to realize that we are all on a journey to God, for we are all on a “Holy Way.” We think some folks are fools and won’t make it to the goal, but God is gracious and cares for fools even when the rest of us aren’t suffering them gladly. We aren’t assigned to be the tour guide for this journey, and we don’t assign seats according to status.

As a spiritual exercise, take a respite from your journey to make self-examination. Where are you on this journey, physically and spiritually? You may want to make a time line or a time circle. Another way is to journal your experience to date or journal about a particular special event on this journey.  As on a real journey, your experience is your own and no one else’s. You feelings can’t be right or wrong: they just are. Give them to God.

Why Do The Righteous Suffer?

Creativity, Imagination, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Uncategorized


“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me;   
and when I waited for light, there came darkness.” ~~ Job 30:26

Easter morning may not be bright and sunny; at least the Weathermen aren’t predicting that this weekend. However, for Christians today, we can celebrate because we know the rest of the story. That first Easter morning, while it was still dark, the disciples were holed up in the Upper Room for fear of their lives and only Mary Magdalene was out in the darkness of the garden.  Wandering in her grief and pain, she came upon an empty tomb. Thinking that Jesus had been stolen in the night, she raced to bring the disciples to confirm this. After they left, she stayed behind to mourn (John 20).

Mixed Media Icon of the Cross

Mixed Media Icon of the Cross

On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene might have been thinking, “No good deed goes unpunished. Why do the dogs bite the hand that feeds them? Why do the righteous suffer?” We aren’t unlike our first century cousin, for we ask the same question when bad things happen to good people. In fact, for most of us believers and non-believers alike, we aren’t thrilled when suffering comes into our lives! Most of us adults are like Job, the uber-Father: he offers sacrifices to God on behalf of his children just in case they fail to fulfill their responsibilities of faith (Job 1:5). We too try to keep our children free from suffering, and then when we or they suffer, we wonder why the righteous have to suffer when we too have been the protector of widows, orphans, and the weak (Job 4:5-6). Unfortunately, suffering is a fact of life, even of the blessed life, as Job was to discover. If we read the final chapters of the Gospels, the histories of the letters in the New Testament, and the stories of the lives of the Prophets, we will discover that those who are called to the God life are not immune to suffering.

Some strains of Christianity practice “Happy Face Theology,” but this is just the wearing of a mask to hide the inner struggles of our truly human suffering.  “Jesus suffered on the cross to take away our suffering, their theology says, so have faith and be happy.” Unfortunately, this notion denies the believer the crucial struggle with reconciling contradictory ideas and emotions.  It keeps the believer from building a rigorous faith that will stand up to the winds and turmoil that come from the storms of life. In the darkness we don’t need a shiny happy faith; we need a strong, deeply rooted faith, even if it can’t be seen above ground.

Another tradition of this Christian Feel Good Message is that those who do good will be rewarded and if we do wrong we are punished.  Christ’s death on the cross gets complicated for this theology: here the good person gets punished, but then gets rewarded in the end.  Suffering can have a purpose, if it’s for God. This opens up a whole bag of negative implications from permitting spousal abuse, sexual harassment, or accepting corporate child punishment “because the Bible has a text supporting it.” The Bible also has texts supporting slavery, eating only kosher foods, not wearing clothes made of two kinds of cloth, marrying more than one woman, and handling poisonous snakes during worship.  Most of us ignore those things, much to our credit! Jesus said we aren’t punished for our misdeeds by God, but God wants us to repent and live a new life (Luke 13:1-5).

Riches and honor, long life and good health are also promised blessings of this tradition in Christianity that we know as Prosperity Theology. It’s belief is that salvation’s blessings are to be found today’s world, which is attractive to people who are attached to this world.  Of course, the one who died on the cross and lay in the grave for three days said, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). We are like King Solomon of old, and the Wisdom Tradition that was popular during his kingdom. We are in love with wisdom/reason, foreign gods/idols, power, and we care for ourselves rather than the poor of the land. The kingdom of Israel doesn’t survive this second king after David, but splits into a northern and southern territory. The Promised Land doesn’t hold together when humanity choses to place the love of earthly riches and power above the love of God.

When the dark days of despair come into our lives and we are wandering and grieving around in a garden, perhaps we even ask if God has abandoned us.  We wonder if we lost the last coin in our pocket for the magic vending machine in the sky that has produced all the goodies we have been used to receiving just by dropping into church on a regular basis or by offering up prayers.  Now these words go out to the emptiness and our coin drops back with a depressing clink. What we forget to do is to read the Bible for ourselves. Preaching is for encouragement, so it usually is upbeat. Reading the Bible will give us the whole story. In the Bible we discover that faithful people suffer as often as they have joy. The blessings of faith aren’t for our enrichment, but to glorify God and build his kingdom. We are meant to spend ourselves and be spent for God’s kingdom: to give the best of ourselves to the least, to the last, and to the lost.

Salmon swim upstream against all odds to spawn to create the next generation, even though for some this will be the last act of their lives. This is an act of suffering and sacrifice for the good of those who come after them. We want to have our faith and keep it for ourselves.  We don’t want our young to suffer in any way possible, yet discipline is a mark of a faithful Christian. Are we different from the world, which chases profit, prosperity, security, social position and pleasure over pain? What marks you as one that swims upstream?

As a spiritual exercise, draw or photograph your idols: perfection, pure health, freedom from pain, wealth, security, or what ever you have made into your own little god.  Next to this draw a rectangle:  This is the void into which God will write the words and show you how God wants to use you.  Use this as a meditation time this week. Don’t feel rushed to write on the first day. Write whatever comes into your mind, individual words or images day by day. May this be a New Day for you!

Dream, Explore, Go

Creativity, Food, home, Imagination, mystery, photography, purpose, renewal, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, vision

Sunlight in the Pines

Sunlight in the Pines

“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it,  for I have given you the land to possess.”  ~~ Numbers 33:53

I overslept this morning, a behavior that seems more common lately. I did make to church yesterday. It was a grand day at Bristol-Baby! Even watching on TV, it had the makings of being there. Wrecks that took out the leaders, who would have expected that? Kyle winning, again. Joey Logano getting into a fight: the older he gets, the more his testosterone kicks in. Everyone will be glad to go to next week!

I am reading an ancient book THE ODD WOMAN, set in the early days of the women’s movement. In early industrial England, women of certain classes had limited choices: marriage, teaching, clerking, governess, or unwholesome occupations. The primary characters either ply these trades or have the economic means to live off the income of their estates. Two are out to change the world by teaching the shop girls how to type so they may move up a class and gain better working conditions.

Then last night I woke up several times with a very dry mouth. In between, I had several dreams, only one of which I even recall a fragment. As I slept, dogs and I spoke together as if we understood each other perfectly. Perhaps I need to write a book, DREAMING WITH DOGS!

As I made my morning ablutions, this verse popped into my mind, “You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” I had been thinking of exploring beyond my memoirs of Turkey and Greece, and what it means to be an explorer who never leaves home. How can one be both a settler and an explorer at the same time?

Settlers and explorers don’t share the same skill sets.  Nor do they share the same callings. If they were sailors, settlers would hug the known shores, while explorers would follow a star until they discovered an unknown land. Explorers want to try the new restaurant in town, while settlers feel secure ordering from a known menu and eating a familiar repast. I suppose this is why when church people move, they look for a place that feels like home and a church that feels their home church. These are settlers. Explorers, however, lead them, for the clergy are always moving into a land “God has given us” by virtue of our appointments. I grew up in a big church, thought I was getting a small church experience in seminary, and learned that there are still even smaller churches out in the world!  Culture shock is the sure sign of being out of your comfort zone, and a pointer that you travel not in the shallow waters anymore. John Wesley identified the explorer DNA of the Methodist clergy when he told them to be ready at a moment’s notice to “pray, preach, move or die.”

Agoraphobia–the fear of open spaces–affects nearly 1.8 million American adults (.8% of the population). Xenophobia–the fear of strangers– affects more of us, sometimes in subtle and unrecognized ways. The “other” is the one we fear because they aren’t like us. The tension this sets up between their settlement and our settlement constructs a “no man’s land” across which neither of us can transit. So we both lob bombs of hate, suspicion and denigration across into each other’s territory. US vs. THEM is our tribal rivalry, our devotions to our pack, and our adherences to our specific creeds.

The other race, immigrants, the poor, the rich, the educated, the ignorant, the churched, the unbelievers, and all other contrasts of our world, such as those that shop at Wal-Mart and those that wouldn’t be caught dead in the parking lot.  All of these are “strangers who live in strange lands.”

Sometimes we artists, creative people, and persons of faith think we must leave home to find the new experience that will open the eye of our imagination and set our creative juices flowing. We believe that only by traveling can we find the novelty that will awaken our senses that have been jaded by the constant bombardment of repetition. What we fail to do is to be explorers at all times, even when we return to the same address and the same bed each night. I have a set of coffee mugs for DST and for CST. I get bored drinking from the same set all year round and begin to miss the spring colored ones. These then are too bright in the fall and winter, so I bring out the deep colors and snow scenes. Monet painted his backyard many times: think Water Lilies!

Sometimes I feel the need to rearrange my 768 square foot condominium: then again, I decide to rehang the artwork to give myself a fresh look on the walls. Buying a new rug in Turkey was my big redecorating project for a while. I will change the cover on my bed according to the season, just to keep the room fresh. I am thinking of redoing the valence in the bedroom. I could still add crown molding and baseboards to the rooms, but I won’t do that until I change the floor covering. These projects are all worthy, but they take away from true creative pursuits. They are just signs that I want to strike out in a new direction, but I am afraid to leave the shore.

“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” This word is for the explorers who yearn to be settlers also, for the Hebrews had been wandering for a long time in the wilderness when they heard this promise from God. For them, the land would be new, wonderful, exciting, full of surprises, and an explorer’s delight. Only later would they be a settled people, forgetting how God fed them daily in the wilderness, and instead trusting their own labor to wrest a crop from that land. They would forget as they sat at their looms patiently weaving that for 40 years in the wilderness, their clothes never wore out and their saddle leather never failed. As they became settled, they trusted themselves more and depended on God less.

The explorer, however, is always going into the unknown, so trusting God in all things is a highly developed characteristic.  “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  This is what the Hebrews were told crossing into the Promised Land, but within a generation they began to trust themselves and other gods. The explorers still trusted the same God who had been with them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

“Where is my next meal coming from” is the same question as “from what source is my next creative idea or expression?”  How can I make ends meet is a question both settlers and explorers ask. Settlers will tie themselves to a plot, whereas explorers will find a way to live off the land. The same God provides for them all. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6.26:). I think we would all be improved by trusting God a little more, by risking entry into the unknown land where God resides, and opening our hearts and minds to the other.

Perhaps that is why we travel, to discover amidst the uniqueness in others an essential humanity. I would be sad to think that some folks traveled hoping to discover the unusual, but yearned for only the familiarity of home, but then they would be settlers. People who travel looking for home, who spend time comparing their experience to home, and talk about how glad they will be when they get home have missed the joy of traveling! Why did they spend $4000 on a grand tour of the holy places when they could have stayed home and complained!? They may have just needed a change of scenery or the weather was poor at that time of year. I too can find a growl bear mood, but when this happens, I like to take my iPhone out and wander about to photograph the common scenes of my everyday life.

Taking photos that are interesting and might be useful for a painting requires me to pre-compose or imagine the image through the lens. Then I brighten and/or use one of the Instagram filters before I share it on Facebook or twitter. I will put the camera inside the flowering bush, lie down on the sidewalk to shoot upwards (just because I’m a granny doesn’t mean I can’t get up again!), or bend down to get eye to eye with a low subject. People’s photos often fail because they aren’t close enough, the light is from the wrong direction, the viewpoint is ordinary, and the subject or photo itself lacks contrast. In other words, they are safe, shore hugging pictures. Explore what your camera can do. Take it for a ride out on a big wave out beyond the breakers.  Feel the exhilarating breeze upon your face as your bark rushes over the tops of waves that have yet to break! You are flying! This is art! This is fun! You can bring your ship home anytime you want, but you’ll never be the same again. You are now an EXPLORER.

This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but it hasn’t been found in any of his writings. It still speaks the truth to all of us:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”(—attributed in error to Mark Twain, first found in H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s P. S. I Love You (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990). Brown’s book is a collection of quotes and maxims attributed to his mother.)

The Fairy Nativity: A Simple Christmas

Creativity, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, renewal, Uncategorized, vision

“There are winds created for vengeance and in their anger they can dislodge mountains. On the day of reckoning they will pour out their strength and calm the anger of their Maker.” ~~ Ecclesiasticus 39: 28 

Seventeen days and counting to Christmas: Grey Thursday, Black Friday holy family and the Great Christmas Sales are upon us. Wal-Mart is covered up with people like the great ski slopes in the mountains should be covered with snow at this time of year. The Salvation Army bell ringers are out, but their friendly jingles and smiles aren’t making much of a dent into the general mood with Fiscal Cliffadedron, Egyptian Meltdown, Iranian Idiots, or Syrian Chemical Weapon threats weighing heavy in the air.

People aren’t much in the mood for Christmas this year, perhaps because our expectations are too high. We wanted a “Good Thanksgiving” with a happy family all gathered around the table, but the drunk uncle made his appearance once again and the kids all wanted to text the entire meal, while Dad wanted the food served in the “media room” so he wouldn’t miss any of the game.  This didn’t make any of the lady folks happy after baking and cooking for two days for the thirty-minute meal. So the gals took the credit cards and maxed them out on the early deals Thursday afternoon.

Now we have the incessant commercials of increasing expectations berating us on the TV: moving up to a bigger car, a bigger diamond, or giving your stepchild a diamond just like the one you gave her Mom (this is outrageous, children shouldn’t get diamonds until they are grownups! They need to have something to look forward to!). But most of our lives today aren’t like this, for we are more like the 99% and less like the 1%.

I was recently in Turkey in the region of Cappadocia. There is an area called the Fairy Mountains that has unusual stone pillars and shapes that have been worn away by the wind, rain, and blowing sand.  One such

fairy mountains cappadocia

fairy mountains Cappadocia

shape is a camel, and another grouping of three is known as the “holy family.” This Nativity Scene makes me think of all the precious sculptures I’ve seen. Most of them are highly sophisticated, brightly colored, and “clean” for that is truly how we view holiness.  This isn’t the world the Christ Child was brought into by his parents, however.

Mary was a young teenager when the angel came to tell her she would bring the Christ into the world without benefit of a husband, that is, it would be a virgin birth. Folks in the village soon began to talk, and Joseph was going to break off their engagement, but an angel told him in a dream it would all work out ok.  When Mary began to show, however, she needed to leave town, so she went to see her older cousin Elizabeth who was also with child.  These two were alike in that they were “outsiders:” Elizabeth was alone because her husband wasn’t able to speak because he doubted the Lord was at work in his wife’s pregnancy and Mary was alone because her family and town doubted her story.

When the census time came, everyone had to go to their ancestral hometown. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, but no one would let them stay in their inn. The text says there was no room for them in the inn, but Joseph wasn’t a stupid or slow man.  He didn’t wait until the last minute to take his very pregnant wife on this trip, so that all the hotels and motels were already full. People back then are just like people now: they talk, they make judgments, and folks decide that out of wedlock babies are unwelcome in their nice establishments.  One innkeeper did take pity upon them and gave the family a place in the stable among the animals. The baby was born there; the king of the world had a manger for his throne, and the animals for his court.  Angels proclaimed the Savior’s birth to shepherds, outcast persons on the margins of society because they were not clean. They were the first to honor him. Strangers from the east came to worship him and give him gifts, aliens and nonbelievers rather than the Jews themselves.  His mother  “…treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The King and the priests heard the strangers from the east ask: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew 2:2).  They conspired among themselves to murder all the newborn baby boys when they didn’t find out the one name. Joseph took Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night out into Egypt, for he was warned in a dream that the child was in danger.

This Christ Child knows the pains of the world from the very beginning of conception, for he knows the loneliness of the poor and the isolated, the rejected and the misunderstood. He knows that if the king of the world will be rejected and despised, so will all we lesser human beings. If we are persecuted in this world, we are in good company, since he was singled out from birth and many innocents died on his behalf (Matt 2:13-33). His family fled with the clothes on their backs, but they carried the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts he received as gifts for his ministry and burial.

Most people don’t read the Nativity Story this way, but when I look at the way the wind wears away the stone, I have to think that these figures are the strength that is left after the winds have torn away the soft parts. The hard parts, that core that remains, is the true part that is the inner strength that comes from the inner spirit of a person.  The winds may move mountains and reveal a new shape, but that is just God’s recreating power at work.

The biblical word for wind and spirit are the same, so the Holy Spirit can be the rushing wind that changes our hearts and minds into the new shape God has in mind for us.  The American Bible Society says that each American home has 4.3 bibles in it in 2012. However, most people aren’t reading it, for 46% couldn’t tell the difference between the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon.  What’s worse, 50% of Americans, including Christians, couldn’t name ANY of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John). The Bible’s oral traditions have been around for 6,000 years, and it’s been written down for 4,000 years.  Surely that is a testimony to its robustness: the winds of other ideas may blow against it, but its inner strength stands firm against all the storms.

As a spiritual art project, make your own nativity from found objects, the more humble the better.  If you go on a nature walk, find rocks or pine cones and paint them with minimal decoration so that they are recognizable as “figure” or “animal”. If you make them from toilet paper rolls, use construction paper and simplify the figure drapery.  These should be fun because you need to quit thinking “perfect” and allow yourself to “enjoy Christmas for a change!”  Have yourself a Merry Simple Christmas!

Money Can’t Buy Art

Creativity, generosity, Grand Bazaar, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, photography, purpose, Spirituality, stewardship, Turkey, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“But where shall wisdom be found? …It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.” ~~ Job 28:12, 15

The recent national elections for President, Senate and House seats cost around $6 billion dollars. At the end of all this storm and fury, the Republicans still hold the House, the Democrats still dominate the Senate, and Mr. Obama is still the President of these United States of America. One candidate, Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, spent nearly $100 million of her personal fortune on her two failed bids for the US Senate seat from Connecticut. This is proof that money itself doesn’t buy elections.

Some of my younger friends are prepared to leave the country: anywhere but here is looking good to them. Then there are the secession petitions on the government’s own web site (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov) filed from all fifty states since this election, including one from Vermont (a “safely Democratic state”), from disaffected citizens who are unhappy with the outcome and don’t want to live under this elected government. (We live in America, not Burger King; we all don’t get to have it “our way.”) We seem to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, or things would be better if other leadership were in charge.

Having just returned from a recent journey to Greece and Turkey, I can say with certainty that every person in every place is in some way unhappy with their own government, but they all continue to muddle along. Our own founders designed a famous “system of checks and balances,” so that no part of our government can get the upper hand. Sometimes nothing gets done for a while, as the politicians wait to see if new leadership will take the reins when an election year comes around. When that fails to happen, they get down to brass tacks and do their deal making, especially if they can see the proverbial “fiscal cliff” looming ahead. We don’t act until the last minute either, for we’ll wait until push comes to shove, and then make the hard decisions that have to be made.

The ordinary deals that we make every day pale in comparison, however, to these big number compacts and agreements that our leaders make that affect not only Americans’ pocketbooks but also the whole world’s economy. For us, we make the small decisions: Should I shop at this employee owned grocery store, where the prices are a little higher, or should I shop at a big box grocer who buys in bulk and passes on the low price savings to me? Both are providing jobs for people, but one pays its dividends to its employee-owners and the other pays its dividends/profits to stockholders. We probably aren’t thinking of this secondary consequence of our use of money, for most of us want only the “biggest bang for our buck.” We don’t often consider the moral or ethical consequences of our money’s impact.

What guides our economy today is the “low price.” We outsource jobs overseas to take advantage of lower wage labor that will lower the costs of products to entice Americans to purchase them. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the goods aren’t as high, for unskilled persons are replacing skilled American crafts people who earned a higher wage. We have become adjusted to paying less and expecting less, and we say, “You just don’t get good stuff anymore.” We are so used to mass-produced, manufactured goods that our senses are dulled and we are unable to appreciate the truly good things of life.

On my recent trip to Turkey I shopped with some of my touring companions in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, a city of more than 13 million people. Here we saw spices, pipes, leather, gold, silk, cashmere, art, souvenirs, clothing, silver and baked goods. This Byzantine Bazaar has 61 covered streets, but we covered only a few on our short tour. It’s one of the oldest covered markets still in existence, with nearly 500,000 people visiting daily. This was our first day in a foreign country, so everyone was worried about safety: personal and financial. This is a big pickpocket area, but then anywhere folks are spending money is a pickpocket area, even in the USA. Folks “lose their wallets in Wal-Mart” when they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. As the holidays approach, I expect the stories of loses will go up also.

We window-shopped and I stopped to finger the scarves. The merchant began to educate me: “Very fine: 50% cashmere & 50% silk. All cashmere, this one. These rayon and wool. This group just rayon.” Oh yes, very beautiful. My group says to me, “You’ll pay too much for a scarf here, Cornelia. There’re some pretty ones for 12 Lira ($6) back there.” This is when I realized that my group was not trained in art, but was trained by the Bottom Line. They bought into the idea of the Low Price, but my Mother taught me that “you get what you pay for.” At this one merchant, I purchased the silk and cashmere shawl in a beautiful green pattern. It was a “value” buy, but not a “cheap or inexpensive” purchase. Later on in Turkey, I purchased several of the lesser quality and lower priced colorful shawls to have a variety of fun throws for everyday wearing.

We get what we pay for. We artists sometimes wonder why our work doesn’t come out the way we imagined it. We may be using inferior materials, “cheap” paints unworthy of good ideas. If you are a hobbyist or a student and you aren’t progressing in your work, try moving up to professional grade pigments & brushes. Great ideas deserve great materials! You will get more intense colors, more rich interactions with the paint, and more intimate involvement with your work. Don’t worry that you are “spending more money,” for these paints will last longer than your “cheap” paints, for you will use less paint to cover more space. Why throw good money after bad paint? Buy the best! Use the best! Become the best!

Wisdom isn’t bought for silver or gold, it is found in the heart and mind of God. Perhaps you need to reassess your calling: do you seek only the mass produced and the low priced? Where does your money go? Are you supporting great corporations only, or does part of your money also support small farmers or fair trade growers? Do you purchase any handmade crafts or is everything manufactured? Consider what that does to your soul.

This week make something hand made to add to your home. An easy project is a pillow cover. It is two squares of cloth sewed together on three sides and a pillow form for the insert. Once it’s stuffed, turn the 4th open edges inside, pin together and whip the opening closed by hand stitching. You can add embellishments on the corners if you like.

This link from the Huffington Post identifies the true costs of secession from the USA. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/11/20/cost-of-seceding-from-united-states_n_2165696.html

McTemples and Lonely Prophets

Creativity, Evangelism, Family, Food, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~~ Matthew 6:21 

Driving home from a retreat in north Arkansas, I made a pit stop at a local McDonalds. I called a friend, for I missed an opportunity to help publicize a group of homeless veterans’ art works.  One of the road riding prophets of the Christian Motorcyclists Associations heard me say, “Let me leave here and we’ll pray,” so he followed me outside. I’d seen his colors as I exited the building, so I wasn’t afraid of his rough looks. Women traveling alone don’t normally want to engage in conversations with strangers because it pierces our bubble of security. The rest of us just want to be left alone so we can get on with our lives. CMA riders share their witness whenever and wherever they can.

This was Ron C, bearing fruit for the weary traveler, sharing that his life now with Christ has been much better than it was before, when he was briefly confined to a mental institution. Now he has a purpose when he rides the road.  He shares Christ with all he meets, for Christ is the seed buried in his heart. I thanked him for his witness and we parted.  I wondered how many Christians have a Christ treasure to share from their heart, or whether Christ is their means to gain earthly treasures.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Harold Camping’s prediction of the End of the World (5-21-11).  Many folks cashed in their pension plans to pay for advertising to warn people of the impending doom/judgment/rapture. They were disappointed, but like true believers, unshaken. Perhaps they should have read the text, “no one but the Father knows the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:36). How can we witness to our faith, if we aren’t given to selling all that we have or riding the roads as a lonely prophet?

Jesus says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  We can’t exactly make a deposit in the First Heavenly Bank & Trust: it doesn’t have a drive through or an ATM. There’s not an app for that for your smart phone. However, we can care for ourselves, since we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We can also care for others as well as for God’s creation. Caring for ourselves means not burning our candle at both ends, choosing fewer processed foods/more fresh foods, making exercise and sleep a priority, and finding our quiet time with God for prayer and meditation. Two days away for a golf/spiritual retreat with my clergy pals was a way I could honor this need to store up treasure in heaven. When 42% of American adults are predicted to be obese by the next generation, we are building McTemples by the millions! This excess weight adds $550 billion to our medical bills in preventable disease costs, for obesity related costs now outrank those caused by smoking.

Caring for others means we value them as we value them as we value ourselves, for we are all made in the image of God. To care for others means not only means to do good to their bodies and souls, but also to refrain from doing harm. People in caretaking professions and customer relations tend to put others first, and themselves second. Years of doing this will diminish our healthy sense of self, until we no longer can stand up for what is true and right. We will do for others exclusively, and fail to take time for ourselves. For some reason, we think we are Superman or Superwoman, and we can fly forever doing mighty deeds. We don’t see the kryptonite until it’s too late: Doing no harm means caring for ourselves. The truth is not one of us is yet under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ, for none of us are entirely perfected in love: we are still going on toward perfection! We yearn for our hearts to be so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, but we still are riding the road, making a way on that journey to perfection.

I may laugh about our McTemples of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only because I come from a culture of eating. I grew up in a Methodist Church and went to a Methodist Seminary. I told folks I had a course called  “Preacher 101—Follow the Food.” It’s a good way to understand the dynamics of the local church, which does run around food: donuts with the pastor, men’s breakfast, ladies’ luncheons, Wednesday night choir supper, potluck dinners, senior club dinners, youth night dinners, spaghetti fund raisers, valentine suppers, potato bakes, etc. I sometimes ate only two meals at home in any given week. All these folks know how to cook, and they all want you to eat their food.  No wonder their pastors have big round bellies, and their insurance is so high! But then, we are just like they are, so we are all going down the same road to illness together.

It’s not that we don’t have access to decent food. Most of my churches have been in small towns, not in the urban jungles of decay that are designated as “food deserts.” They aren’t in rich neighborhoods by any means, but we do have access to a variety of food.  Since I’ve been on health leave, I’ve become more conscious about caring for my body, soul, and mind. I’ve learned that our food industry makes cheap food palatable by layering fat, salt, and sugar together in a heavily processed form. These products are heavily packaged, highly advertised, and subject to extreme couponing offers.  They are not the best foods for you.  The best foods are on the outer perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, meats, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

The food deserts are in the poorer neighborhoods that have more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores. They also have less access to transportation and higher rates of metabolic syndrome diseases plus less access to medical care. A good project would be a community garden and cooking classes. Neighbors helping neighbors by improving the little patch of the earth on which they live makes a whole lot of good for God’s kingdom, or “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Our spiritual practice will be an inventory of our heart: what are our treasures? Begin to list them one by one, beginning with all the things and all the people you hold dear to you. Then list all the powers and strengths. Now list all the pains and sorrows, weaknesses and failures.  See how God has used these also to bring treasure into your life.  As our art project, try building a treasure box: If you have an old box, you can paint or decoupage (cut pictures & glue designs) it according to your taste.  This can be a place to keep the treasures from the years gone by. You can also fold a box of scrapbook paper using the ten step directions found at

http://rubberstamping.about.com/od/techniquesandtutorials/ss/Box.htm

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

 

Hunger Games and Religious Famine

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Family, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, Work

two trees “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”             ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 

I spent two days last week listening to my favorite seminary professor, friend, bog Irishman and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology. I was his research assistant one year, which is actually a glorified title for travel/booking agent, secretary, and general flunky.  Since I also was his alter ego for his correspondence, I learned to “channel my inner Abraham.” Fifteen years later, I can still easily pierce through his Irish dialect, which for others is as heavy as a stout pair of brogues handed down from their granddaddy’s closet.  “Faith” for Billy has three syllables, just as the Holy Trinity has three persons.

Billy is a resident alien in these parts, since he is an Irish citizen, but even if he were a naturalized American citizen, my guess is he wouldn’t consider himself a citizen of this world, for as a Christian “our citizenship is from heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In this world we have many nations, both rich and poor. In these, there are rich who live in the poorest nations and very poor people who live in the rich nations such as our own. I speak here only of economics, for some of those who are financially poor are richer spiritually than those who have great wealth, for they understand their lives depend upon God’s providence and mercy, and not on their own strength and position for gain.

Those who are caught up in the spirit of this world are beset by the cares of this world and focus on these problems. They see no hope for change, no way out of the status quo. They are “hopeless” people, for the spirit of the world can’t offer hope, but only more of the same. This is why “the Hunger Games” and its dystopian view of the future has captured the attention of our youth. They see it as a possible future, for they live without hope. Their generation’s symbol is the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

As I was chatting with my Walgreen’s photo clerk the other day, she said, “Your parents fought to make the world safe for democracy, and people your age put a man on the moon. Our generation hadn’t seen anything grand or positive happen. We’ve been at war most of our lives, mostly “against something”, but never “for anything.” It’s like we have lost our will to do any great deeds as a country. We can’t even be “for peace, for ecological sanity or for whatever!” The spirit of this world is negativity in all its aspects.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Those who walk on another path don’t belong to the spirit of this world, even though they live in this world, for they have received the Spirit of God. This isn’t some special gift, reserved only for a few extraordinary persons, but it’s the gift of God to each and every believer! How are we to know God if we aren’t joined to him in a spiritual manner? We aren’t able to use our minds alone, for “no human mind can grasp this, and who can comprehend his ways?” Our mind is part of this world, but not part of the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 16:20).

Once we have our own experiences with God, we can test them against the experiences of the saints of the church (tradition), the witness of Scripture, and the reason of our minds. We will never understand God with our minds only, but we will also never understand God only by our human experience or by the tradition of others either, or just by reading about God from the Bible.  Because God is a personal God, whom we know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need to experience God in relationship, for our spirit communicates with God’s Holy Spirit. When we experience God, we experience hope, life, and love.

We aren’t able to hear the sounds of hopelessness in the world unless we too have also known no hope. When I met this worker at the photo counter, we got into this discussion because another customer was admiring my iPhone 4S photos and compared them to my  35mm Minolta black body camera photos. Because there’s nothing automatic on my 40 year old camera, I have to think and compose my photo before I shoot.  She particularly admires the two trees winter stark against a blue sky. This photo was one of a series I took of trees that stood naked, ready to bloom once spring began, I was reading Brian D. McLauren’s Naked Spirituality at the time. It reminded her of the Twin Towers in New York City, the symbol of her generation’s loss and communal grief. She is my daughter’s age, part of Gen Y or the “Millenniums.” They are the first Internet generation, so technology is a necessity in their life. They may be wired into the world, but they have no intelligible vocabulary or theological framework from which to make a coherent and positive sense of the world.

They are “Saturday’s children, but they aren’t in Sunday School,” for as a group, these young people are deeply suspicious of tradition.  I suspect that even if they were in a church they would find that the gospel there has been watered down to what Billy Abraham calls a “civil religion” or “God, the flag, private enterprise, and the fourth of July.” Upon finding this worldly gospel within the church, they would turn and leave, and rightly so, for why get out of bed early on Sunday if they aren’t going to hear a different message from the world they are in the other six days of the week? They are hungry, but they aren’t finding nourishment in our “fast food churches” these days.

To make coherent sense of this world, we have to have a worldview that is focused on God, for only then will we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our primary gift is “prophecy, in proportion to faith” (Romans 12:6). This isn’t some two bit foretelling of the future, but a vigorous listening to God’s word, an active calling of God’s people back to God’s love, and the announcing of God’s judgment if we fail to return or God’s mercy if we repent and return.

Too often we have made the gospel a cheap one-armed bandit, putting our quarters in and hoping for the three cherries to hit the jackpot of prosperity. Other times we have made the good news a shackle to bind people by laws and restrictions instead of freeing tem to become fully human and fully holy in the grace of God. We who claim the name of Christ have failed to articulate the good news so that our children and grandchildren can hear us! Why is that? Could it be that we actually practice a less robust religion, the civil religion in which we nod to the flag, to the country, to the rule of law, and to a creator God, but we do not give our whole lives over to the one Lord who can transform all that we are into more than we can ever imagine!  Our children deserve the Bread of Life!

“I Can Only Imagine” is a wonderful song—you can download it from iTunes if you don’t already have it. Although it’s about “heaven,” it could be about the new creation. Imagine your vision of a better world: describe it in positive terms rather than negative ones (we are at peace, rather than there is no war). If your idea is that all will have enough to eat, find a food pantry or soup kitchen and volunteer for a day to put a face on hunger in this present world. Make a difference in the part of the world in which you live. This is hands on spirituality or the spirituality of praxis.

As a creative project, write a poem or story, photograph, or place colors on a canvas about your experience. If you are photoing people, ask permission first, for not everyone wants their image used. Colors tell the story of your experience. You don’t have to make a realistic image, but your colors and shapes/lines should reflect your inner emotions. This may be harder than it sounds.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Art, Work & Breaking Out of Prison

Creativity, Fear, home, Imagination, Ministry, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

This is a strange & dark veil of bamboo and vines that I found in Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Looking into the sun, the image was backlighted, so it seemed to be a fence guarding against my entry.

I thought about the fences that keep me from progressing in my spiritual and artistic life: some of them are barricades of my own making. I seek perfection, but if I were to seek the good first, the perfect would eventually follow. Because I seek the perfect, sometimes I don’t even reach the good! It’s crazy of course, but that is what happens when one tries too hard.

I belong to a Facebook prayer group. One of the members is overwrought because they are exhausted from trying to wrangle, cajole, force, convince or otherwise browbeat  a member of the family into a better behavior that will indeed save their life.  No doubt quitting the alcoholic lifestyle would save that person’s life and maybe someone else’s life. However, no amount of logic or emotion will make an addict change until they are good and ready. When they lose all they have ever trusted in and all their support systems are gone, then they might change. Or maybe not. It’s not up to us. This member is so worn out that she wanted strength to keep going. I wrote, “when sawing gets hard, stop and sharpen saw.”

At some point in our spiritual and creative lives, we need to stop and sharpen our saws. We can’t keep pouring out all things for others and expect to have any creative energies left. We need to be filled up again. The best life is to be constantly filled, spilled, and refilled.

I was reading an article today on http://www.alternet about the 40 hour work week and the 8-8-8 plan (hours for work, sleep, and enjoyment). After 40 hours, workers begin to react as if they are tipsy with alcohol as their reaction time and production begins to lag.  Their production goes down with each additional 10 hours added to the work week. Even more interesting was the fact that the loss of even one hour of sleep each night had the same effect as adding an extra 10 hours of work to the week!  For folks that labored with their minds, it was even worse!

In this world today, folks are so happy to be employed, they are willing to work any amount of hours to keep a job, but they aren’t happy and they aren’t healthy emotionally or physically.  They also aren’t very productive either.  We could probably put a few more folks to work, cut the work week back, decrease the cost of our health care (the cost is claims based, so fewer claims based on illness is a lower premium), and get this country moving again!

But no one listens to me, I’m just an artist with a spiritual heart who has been crying in the wilderness for a long time! I cried in the 60’s for peace and civil rights, I cried in the 70’s for women’s equality, I cried in the 80’s for an opportunity to lead where my heart went, I cried in the 90’s for the liberation of the human soul, and I’m still crying today for the whole person to become wholly human and wholly holy.  At least today I understand that the forces of evil may try to hold us prisoner, but God in Christ has defeated them! These chains cannot hold us, and neither can the chains of sin and death.

Therefore, perfection no longer holds us.  Instead, we work for the good of all (Gal 6:10).  As a creative project, you might want to photograph fences you see on your walks or travels this week. We all travel the same routes to the store, to work, to our favorite haunts. Our cars can drive themselves automatically, or we can sleep on the subway or bus and know when our stop is about to come up.  Seeing our environment anew is always good practice. Take photos with the cell phone or a single use camera. Note the “fences” and “barricades” in your environment.  They may be a keep out sign, a locked gate, a decorative wall, a privacy fence, or a japanese decorative screen between the sleeping and living areas of a small apartment. What fences are around your heart and soul? Give these over to God in prayer. Joy and Peace, Cornelia